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UNEP/HABITAT Balkans Task Force experts leave for Serbia and Kosovo

Geneva/Nairobi, 16 July 1999 - Three teams of international experts from the joint UN Environment Programme (UNEP)/UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF) leave for Serbia and Kosovo this weekend, to begin work on an independent assessment of the environmental and human settlements impacts of the Balkans conflict.

"There has been a lot of speculation, from various sources, about the actual impact on the Balkans environment as a result of the conflict," said Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish environment minister and BTF Chairman who will be leading the upcoming missions. "This, the first independent United Nations-led assessment, will provide the international community with a neutral and scientifically credible report on the situation," he said.

Arriving in Belgrade this Sunday, the first two groups will conduct an environmental assessment of the worst damaged industrial sites, primarily in Serbia. Planned locations to be visited include: Pancevo industrial complex, Novi Sad oil refinery, Baric chemical plant and Rakovica industrial complex (Belgrade), Zastava car factory (Kragujevac), and oil depots in Kraljevo, Nis and Pristina, Kosovo. Other sites may be added to the itinerary, and mobile laboratories will travel with the teams around the country. The scientists on this first mission are expected to finish the field-work component of their work by 28 July.

The third group, to be based in Pristina, will concentrate on creating mechanisms for land title registration, resolving tenancy and property disputes, and strengthening municipal (including environmental) administration and leadership. The team will work closely with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and UNHCR's legal advisors to develop an administrative capacity for better urban governance at the level of the municipalities and to find ways of ensuring security of tenure for the returning refugees.

Later missions (in August) are planned in order to assess the environmental impacts of the conflict on the Danube river; the region's biological diversity; and on human health. A preliminary report is expected in September.

An earlier UN inter-agency mission to the region recommended that a detailed assessment of the environmental situation be carried out with the aim of identifying specific needs for targeted assistance. This recommendation was echoed by European Union Environment Ministers at the recent Council meeting on the Environment in Luxembourg. The latest information on the work of the BTF can be accessed from the World-Wide-Web at http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf - the site contains information that was not previously in the public domain such as detailed situation reports and maps. The site also contains general information on the task force, the latest news, developments and contacts, and links to United Nations agencies, NGOs, and other important partner sites.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP and Acting Executive Director of Habitat, established the joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force in May, to look at the direct environmental and human settlements impacts of the conflict in the Balkans and to the wider consequences to countries of the region, including Bulgaria and Romania.

Experts participating in the missions to Serbia and Kosovo

 

Name: Expertise:
Arne Semb Air pollution, chemicals
Birgitte Marcussen Chemistry/Biology
Benny Rud Hansen Civil Engineer/Hydrobiologist
Josef Haider Hydrologist, Agrochemist, food-chain
Michel Allsopp Biomedical science, human health and chemicals
Magnus Nystrøm Environmental damage in industrial sites
Kirsten Jørgensen Biology, Chemical Analyst on soil and water pollution
Volker Mohaupt Hydrologist
Elisabeth Salters Toxicologist
Alex Juras Institutional capacity analysis
Ralf Donau Environmental Chemistry
Scott Leckie Legal Expert, property rights
Sue Chrateris Municipal administration, property registration

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For more information contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman
on tel: (254-2) 623292, fax: 623692,
email: brevikt@unep.org,
or
Sharad Shankardass,
Actg. Head,
Media and Press Relations,
Habitat,
tel: (254-2), 623153, fax: 624060,
email: habitat.press@unchs.org

In Geneva, contact:
Robert Bisset,
Office of the Spokesman (UNEP)
and BTF Press Officer on tel:
(41-22) 917-8615/6, fax: (41-22) 917-8024, mobile: 41-(0)-79-206-3720,
email: robert.bisset@unep.org.
From 18-28 July, (in Yugoslavia) please use mobile number.
Or,
Gertrud Attar on tel: 917-8234,
email: attarg@unep.ch

UNEP News Release 1999/81

Monday 19 Jul 1999
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